I was the species of moody adolescent who drove people away from me when that was the last thing I wanted, so I spent a lot of time alone. I had private enthusiasms. I liked to be in the woods by myself, I liked to sleep, I liked to swim underwater, and I liked to sit in my room and listen to music, usually repetitively, while looking at the record’s cover. The first record I did this with was the Kingston Trio’s “At Large,” which belonged to one of my older brothers. I played it often enough that I was able finally to establish who among the three men on the cover was Dave Guard, who was Bob Shane, and who was Nick Reynolds; also, who had the husky voice, who had the tenor, and who had the slightly stiff delivery. Likewise, several years later, staring at the cover of the Grateful Dead’s first record, I determined who was Bob Weir, who were Captain Trips, Phil Lesh, and Bill the Drummer, and who was Pigpen. (People tend to look like their names, and when they sing they often sound like their names, too.) When “Revolver” came out, in 1966, I already knew who the individual Beatles were—they had cunningly saturated the culture by then—but, even so, I stared at their images while I played “She Said She Said” so many times that I thought I might wear out the groove.
That year, I did the same thing with “When a Man Loves a Woman,” by Percy Sledge. I played “She Said She Said” because I couldn’t understand it. I played “When a Man Loves a Woman” because of how beautiful it was. Of course, I couldn’t understand “When a Man Loves a Woman,” either. I was in eighth grade, and the emotions it concerned and the scene it described were so far beyond my knowing that I didn’t even really know they existed. It was a blues song, essentially, and the blues are about things one feels most powerfully in apprehending the world’s design—in maturing, that is, and I hadn’t matured sufficiently yet. Adolescence, though, is almost purely a landscape of feelings, and I could believe that being in love was a lacerating, self-annihilating experience, and that a man could be in thrall to a woman.
By: Alec Wilkinson
Source: The New Yorker